Court Upholds Voucher Aid To 'Faith-Based' Group

A federal appeals court has upheld a voucher-style program that allows ex-offenders to choose "faith-based" rehabilitation programs.

On April 2, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Wisconsin could allow offenders to use public funds to enroll at a Christian-based rehabilitation program.

The institution at issue is a halfway house run by Faith Works, an evangelical Christian group that includes a heavy dose of religion in its activities. The 7th Circuit noted that Faith Works "encourages the offender to establish a personal relationship with God through the mediation of Jesus Christ."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued Wisconsin correctional officials seeking to prevent the state from funding religion. The group argued that Wisconsin officials were subverting the First Amendment.

The 7th Circuit panel, however, found that the Wisconsin correctional authorities did not require or coerce offenders to enter Faith Works, but merely provided the offender with the choice of several halfway houses, most of which are secular.

Noting that the Supreme Court has upheld voucher aid to religious schools, Judge Richard A. Posner said similar principles apply in the Wisconsin dispute.

"The state in effect gives eligible offenders 'vouchers' that they can use to purchase a place in a halfway house, whether the halfway house is 'parochial' or secular," he wrote. (Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Scott McCallum and Faith Works Milwaukee)

Americans United and allied organizations are asking the entire 7th Circuit bench to review the appellate panel's decision.